The Denver Broncos announced the signing of ninth-year linebacker Mark Barron on Sunday, which was a day off for the team at training camp. Back in the saddle on Monday, the Broncos got back to work at UC Health Training Center with Barron in the fold.
The Broncos hsve been hit hard by the injury bug at the linebacker position, losing starter Todd Davis for the remainder of camp (calf) and promising rookie Justin Strnad for the season (wrist). Linebacker depth was definitely an immediate concern because once you get past Josey Jewell on the depth chart, the group careens off a clip when it comes to anything remotely approaching proven experience.
Barron brings experience in spades, as a former first-round pick out of Alabama. The secondary concern has been — and will continue to be — the Broncos' coverage chops at linebacker. Neither Davis, nor Alexander Johnson, nor Josey Jewell bring the type of coverage acumen that comforts a defensive coordinator.
But as a safety-turned-linebacker, Barron believes his experience as a defensive back can absolutely help the Broncos' coverage schemes.
“I think it helps a lot," Barron said following Monday's practice, his first with the Broncos. "Obviously, I have a lot of experience playing that coverage role and covering tight ends at linebacker. If that’s what they need me to do, I definitely feel like I can get that job done."
With Barron's traditional jersey number 26 being worn by cornerback Isaac Yiadom, the linebacker chose No. 42. For now.
Although the advanced analytics sites, and the tape, to be frank, aren't kind to Barron when it comes to his coverage chops, he sees his experience in the NFL as a former safety as being a clear advantage.
"As far as my playing safety and playing linebacker over the years, I think it’s really just a knowledge thing where I’ve played in a bunch of different roles and I’m a pretty versatile guy, a flexible guy, so I can do a number things for the defense if asked to do those things," Barron said. "I think just that flexibility is where I can help out at.”
Head coach Vic Fangio is hopeful Barron can fit in well on his defense but recognizes the learning curve the veteran has to navigate quickly between now and the regular-season opener on September 14.
“We’re going to find out," Fangio said on Monday. "He’s obviously been a good player in the league. He’s a guy that we’ll see how he can fit in. He’s obviously got a lot to learn in a short period of time, but we’ll see.”
Fans should feel a lot better about the Barron signing than the failed experiment to bring back Corey Nelson last year on the doorstep of the season-opener. Although Nelson the player was familiar to the Broncos as a 2014 seventh-round pick of the team's, he wasn't known to Fangio, and Fangio's complex scheme was completely alien to him. The results were atrocious as Nelson went from the street to the starting lineup in a matter of days.
Barron not only has more time to assimilate and settle in with the Broncos, but his experience in the NFL is vastly superior to Nelson. I'm not expecting any coverage miracles when it comes to Barron as a Bronco because it's been a while since he showed out well in that area on the field.
But he has done it before and it's possible the combined efforts of Fangio, Ed Donatell, and Reggie Herring could bring it back out of him and help the defense. If not, he's at least a more-than-solid veteran depth piece to bolster the linebacker corps.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I expect to have any role," Barron said. "Obviously, I’m going to go what they ask me to do. I would assume that they want me to help in some coverage aspects as far as covering tight ends and running backs. I’m taking this thing a day at a time. I have a whole defensive playbook to learn. It’s a lot."